Defence coach Alan Dickens insists that despite a 39-18 defeat to an experienced Sale Sharks side on Saturday afternoon, Northampton supporters can be encouraged by the young Saints’ showing.
The visitors named a side full of youth and promise at the AJ Bell stadium with eight players making their Club debuts in Ryan Olowofela, Reuben Bird-Tulloch, Tommy Freeman, Michael van Vuuren, Lewis Bean, Tui Uru, Henry Taylor and Tommy Mathews.
Skipper Teimana Harrison lead from the front with Saints’ first try of the season, and Alex Coles also jinked his way through two defenders to bag a second-half try, but Steve Diamond’s Sale side held firm and condemned Northampton to defeat on the opening weekend of the season.
But regardless of the final result, Dickens – entering his tenth season as a coach at Franklin’s Gardens – felt the men in Black, Green and Gold acquitted themselves well.
“We went in at half-time only a few points behind and it could have been even closer,” he said. “The messages were positive at the break, then we were unfortunate as they got an intercept and that hurt us early doors in the second half.
“But there were some encouraging signs; we had a lot of young players out there, and they’ve experienced a fully competitive game today.
“Sale bolstered their squad this year with a lot of South African signings, and they had the likes of the Du Preez brothers, Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, and Chris Ashton out there amongst others – they’re big men and Sharks are going to be a physical side this year, so our players learnt a lot.”
Next up for Saints in their defence of the Premiership Rugby Cup is Wasps, who travel to Franklin’s Gardens this weekend (kick-off 3pm, Saturday 28 September).
And Dickens believes the squad will be relishing the prospect of playing back in front of a partisan home crowd next week, with a few in particular catching his eye at the AJ Bell Stadium.
He added: “Alex Coles stood out in terms of his carrying, and Henry Taylor had an impact when he came on in the second half but of course it’s a team game.
“Beanie [Lewis Bean] started really well; he was positive with his carries early in the game and on his very first carry he put someone on their back. Going back to people who will learn from today, he’s on a steep learning curve at the moment and he’ll get better and better because he’s made the step up to the Premiership.
“The game was tough and we’d only had one hit out so far against Leinster, so it still had that feel of a preseason friendly, but these are competitive fixtures so we’re desperate to win and are looking forward to being back at home on Saturday.”